23 April, 2014

I have a jam jar and I'm not afraid to use it

Every now and again I catch a moth that just won't fit into a specimen pot. In this kind of situation, a purpose built 'massive moth jam jar' is able to provide cosy accommodation to larger insects seeing out a night in the fridge.

During an average summer the jar will see action only once or twice every few weeks, making its extraction from the cupboard nothing short of an important family occasion- although they always seem to be about to do something really important whenever I mention that I'm actually using the jar... strange.

In the last three nights however, it has already been whipped out on several occasions to accommodate these two fantastic beauties...

Lime Hawk-moth... on the other end of a five minute 'let us all stare in complete awe' session. 

The massive broken twig look-alike moth that is a Buff-tip. So fantastic that it definitely deserves to have two images of it posted. 

The aforementioned 'massive moth jam jar' in action. One day there's going to be a Death's Head Hawk-moth in there...

... one day. 

22 April, 2014

Comparing moths

I have thousands of images of moths on my laptop. There, I said it. It's not a fact that I'm proud of, but I had to get that off my chest. The number of photos seem to have slowly built-up over a period of four years of moth trapping, and whilst many will never see the light of day, you'd think that with so many photos at my disposal, at least one or two would be worth sharing.

Recently, I had the amazingly original (not) idea of placing images of similar species side-by-side to create mega images; 'comparison shots' if you will. I've made a few so far, but over the coming weeks (and months) I hope to get a few more photographed in front of a blank background, as my on-going quest to procrastinate from coursework continues.

Now you know the difference between Pexicopia malvella and Bryotropha terrella, don't you ... DON'T YOU?

Would it be helpful to add a few arrowed annotations describing diagnostic features, or would that just clog up the image? Let me know what you think...

21 April, 2014

In a bluebell wood...

Took a stroll through White Down this morning, a large expanse of bluebell woodland slightly west of Dorking. Whilst the walk was refreshingly lacking in dog-walkers, there was also a distinct lack of wildlife, with only the call of a Nuthatch heard through the beech trees. The bluebells have already reached a fantastic peak, and this site must be one of the best places to watch them flower in the south-east. At certain points along the footpath you're taken directly through the middle of them, and it took a while to adjust the eyes from seeing purple once the path finally opened out into chalk downland.

With the temperature still distinctly chilly until the last remnants of fog lifted from the valley, the invertebrates never really kicked off. There was some moth activity, with singles of Adela reaumurella and Incurvaria masculella brightened things up a bit, and I couldn't resist getting a closer look at one of many Phyllonorycter sorbi/oxyacantha which have emerged in the last couple of days.

There were some fantastic wildflowers on the chalky slopes, but no sign of any Orchids as of yet. I have a non-existent limited knowledge when it comes to higher plants, so any of the following identifications are probably completely wrong...

Common or Chalk Milkwort, that is the question.

Early Forget-me-not 

Appears to be a Lamium species, although I've never seen one growing so low to the ground!

These were everywhere in the woodland, and I'm sure I'll be kicking myself when I eventually get round to identifying it!

Plants are confusing.

19 April, 2014

Phyllonorycters rule

Phyllonorycter harrisella

This was swept from a small oak tree on the patch this afternoon. Not much bigger than a grain of rice, but Phyllonorycter harrisella is just one of many minute beauties that emerge from their leaf-mines on deciduous trees in spring. Fantastic things.

17 April, 2014

More local moths (and beetles)

I haven't put the moth trap out in the garden since catching that Blossom Underwing last Friday, but some afternoon netting has turned up more colourful goodies in the past few days- notably the first record of Pammene rhediella for the garden, and a rather colourful Cydia strobilella. The latter is described as 'uncommon and very local' in VC17, usually associated with established spruce plantations. In the immediate area, the species appears to be thriving well off a large spruce tree two gardens down, with 2014 being the 4th consecutive year of recording it.

Pammene rhediella

Cydia strobilella

Probably the best find of late was caught on Wednesday morning in the bathroom shower, of all places, in the form of the nationally scarce Desmestid beetle Megatoma undata. Unlike other beetles in the same family, this is a non-introducted species usually found in dead-wood, well away from human habitation. This is clearly an interesting record of an insect keeping on top of personal hygiene...

Megatoma undata

Yesterday I went in search of Orange Underwing (Archiearis parthenias) and Light Orange Underwing (A. notha) in a few of the south London parks, but failed miserably to locate anything other than an early Cryptoblabes bistriga, a characteristic pyralid of oak woodland. A brief stop at Esher Common produced a small flock of Common Crossbill feeding in pines along the A3, as well as some neat Green Tiger Beetles and large swarms of the heather-feeding leaf beetle, Lochmaea suturalis.

Cryptoblabes bistriga

Green Tiger Beetle

16 April, 2014

Dusking for moths

Although we've being treated to a decent run of very warm and sunny spring days of late, we're also having to deal with some distinctly chilly, cloudless nights. Any normal person would shrug this off and just enjoy the sunshine, but for any self-respecting moth trapper the weather is atrocious!

In this kind of situation I wouldn't usually bother myself with the inevitable one or two moth catches that would result from putting a moth trap out, but instead go out dusking! It's as simple as it sounds- just pick a still evening, head out with a net and see what you find (trying not to look like a deranged weirdo whilst you do it is the hard part). My patch, Stokes Field, has a nice range of damp meadows which are generally sheltered from the wind but also manage to catch the last rays of sun, providing a bit of late evening warmth to encourage day/dusk-flying moths onto the wing. A half hour session last night as the sun went down resulted in a modest but nonetheless interesting total of 6 species...

Caloptilia syringella
50+ Cameraria ohridella
5 Elachista apicipunctella
200+ Elachista rufocinerea
1 Digitivalva pulicariae
16 Eriocrania subpurpurella

Cameraria ohridella

Caloptilia syringella

Elachista apicipunctella

Elachista rufocinerea

15 April, 2014

Hairstreaks, Skippers and Bluebells

With yesterday morning free from any commitments, I spent it having a gander around some good old chalk downland- a favourite habitat of mine that is somewhat lacking in Worcestershire. The steep slopes and open grassland around Dorking and Mickleham never fail to deliver something interesting, and I enjoyed a nice couple of hours in the sun armed with just a camera and a pocket hand lens.

I found a quiet path leading through flowering bluebell wood, the silence broken only by the song of a Firecrest as it worked its way along a line of ancient yews. Where the path opened up, dozens of Green Hairstreaks sunned themselves on the bramble and hawthorn scrub, remaining still for a few quick seconds before taking off to chase after any unwitting insect that happened to enter their air space. The species evaded me completely last year, so this was a very welcome sight...

Green Hairstreak

Further out on the exposed slopes, the first Dingy Skippers revealed themselves, feeding in the open around patches of Common Milkwort in the company of Peacocks, Orange-tips and Brimstones. Day-flying moths were well represented, with just about every flowering plant holding one or two Pancalia leuwenhoekella, their striking wing patterns becoming noticeable when caught by the sun, as well as the equally stunning Grapholita jungiella and Pyrausta nigrata.

Dingy Skipper

Pancalia leuwenhoekella

Grapholita jungiella

Common Milkwort

This view never gets old, especially when it's topped off with Green Hairstreaks and Firecrests...

13 April, 2014

Bookham invertebrates

The recent spell of decent weather continued for yesterday's LNHS survey at Bookham Common, and as usual I was treated to a number of new inverts in the company of the beetle and bug experts, with a welcome vocal supporting cast of Lesser Whitethroat and Cuckoo.

One particular large bug caught my eye resting on low vegetation by the LNHS hut, and turned out to be Box Bug (Gonocerus acuteangulatus), a species previously confined in its UK distribution to a single site in Surrey, but that has since expanded its range throughout the southern counties, making use of commoner foodplants.

Elaphrus riparius running across typical muddy, wet habitat.

Apion frumentarium- I've netted a number of vibrant red Apion weevils in recent weeks, but have been too afraid to key them out by myself!

Box Bug

Whilst everyone else had their heads to the ground, I kept an eye on the sky and managed a single moth 'tick' in the form of Agonopterix purpurea; a characteristic species of chalk grassland using wild carrot as a foodplant. Quite a nicely marked moth considering the genus it's in...

Agonopterix purpurea

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm rather liking the look of next week's forecast...

More lepidoptera please.


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